Marketing Matters CMO Spotlight: The Ad Campaign Revolution

Aired August 19, 2015

This week CMO Spotlight—a monthly edition of Marketing Matters—explored how the concept of the ad campaign is being redefined. Executive Director Catharine Hays and co-host Jenny Rooney of Forbes CMO Network welcomed three guests to discuss how new media has driven a revolution in the meaning of a campaign: gone are the days of a single campaign run on an individual platform. The advent of social and digital media, where customers expect a different kind of engagement, means smart companies are breaking with tradition. The CMOs of KFC, Western Union, and H&R Block joined our show to discuss how.

Kevin Hochman, CMO at KFC was Catharine and Jenny’s first guest. The fried chicken company has recently launched a campaign to convince a new generation to connect with—and eat—KFC: 60 percent of millenials had never patronized the restaurant. The concept encapsulates the combination of old and new so crucial to long-standing brands: the Colonel, the emblem of KFC and its actual founder 75 years ago, is—in a sense—back. “The idea was reviving the values of the Colonel, not so much bringing back the Colonel,” explains Hochman. “We were never going to be able to recreate this guy, but we can find a way to honor a real person and get his story out there, particularly to a generation who don’t even know he exists.”

Kevin Hochman, CMO at KFC
Kevin Hochman, CMO at KFC

The Colonel represents two things: doing things the hard way—that is, cooking as a craft—and showmanship. “Imagine a man who at the age of 65 went door to door to license his chicken recipe, and by the age of 75 was the most recognized man in the world,” Hochman says. “In the last 30 years of his life he wasn’t seen in public without his crazy suit, his custom cane, Kentucky bow tie, and a superbowl-like ring that was fried chicken-themed. He was a very deliberate marketing showman.”

In bringing back the values of the colonel— his duel sense of authenticity and fun —KFC was careful not to be disingenuous: obviously, the Colonel is no longer with us. That the campaign offers different iterations of the Colonel, based on things the man himself really did, is thus front and center. “The whole idea is we’re running right towards the joke, because we know young people don’t want to be sold to,” says Hochman.

The ad campaign, which continues to develop, has thus become increasingly ‘meta.’ The first ‘new’ Colonel was played by SNL star Darrell Hammond, and 10 weeks later, a new campaign, starring Norm McDonald—another SNL veteran—was rolled out. The Hammond campaign created a lot of social media attention, people we pleased and perplexed by the Colonel’s revival, so KFC decided to add fuel to the fire. In McDonald’s ad, the Colonel is indignant that someone had been posing as him, quipping “They can’t just grab some super funny Hollywood actor, throw a white suit on him, and try to pass him off as the real Colonel Sanders. And I should know, because I am Colonel Sanders.”

Explains Hochman, “The vision had always been to have different characters play the Colonel—to have a new Colonel the way you have a new James Bond—but we didn’t think it would happen this quickly. 10 years ago, before social media, we would have waited. But the debate had started, and we thought if we could pour gas on this thing, we could get a whole other punch out of it.” Honesty, adaptability, and a sense of fun were all crucial to this ever-changing campaign.

Next up on the show, Catharine and Jenny welcomed Diane Scott, Executive Vice President, Global Chief Product Officer, and CMO at Western Union. As Scott explained, “when you’re a company that’s 160 years young, people assume they know the brand, but they often don’t.” Rebranding Western Union has thus been a focus for the past few years, but who to create campaigns for was a particular challenge.

Diane Scott, Executive Vice President, Global Chief Product Officer, and CMO at Western Union
Diane Scott, Executive Vice President, Global Chief Product Officer, and CMO at Western Union

“Western Union is probably one of the most global brands on the planet—any time you’re moving money across boarders, you’re touching two continents,” Scott says. With over 500,000 agent locations, the company has a bigger distribution network than Walmart, McDonald’s, Starbucks, and Burger King combined. Therefore, “the brand is sitting on two different pieces of continent…and we need to have a very global site that connects them, but at the same time you need to be very, very local,” explains Scott. “You need a excellent balance of global strategies and local marketing.”

Western Union thus ran a recent campaign, #WUHomeCooked, targeted at a very specific segment Scott calls ‘dual belongers.’ “These are people whose heart and home is in two places at once,” she says. “There are 230 million migrants around the world, and when they’re sending money, they’re making an economic difference to their home, helping the GDP of whole countries. The insight of that segment—what happens and what that feels like—is pretty special and individual.”

Western Union set out to celebrate these dual belongers. “Listening to our social media, we realized that people had memories of home (especially around holidays) that were centered on food and home cooked tastes they really missed,” explains Scott. So the company set up pop-up restaurants in store, surprising certain customers with a meal from home: chefs recreated the specific family recipes they missed so much. “We only did the campaign in the states, but the video transcended the globe: it tied into a universal insight. It was cross-cultural.”

Scott considers emotional connection crucial to marketing: “It’s easy to get caught up in technology and functionality and rationality, and of course they’re important, but bringing in the emotive portion of our brain is essential,” she says. Connecting people over huge distances is certainly an emotional business, and the newer media platforms of social and mobile helps Western Union enhance this quality. “When it comes to engagement, you’re talking about people who are literally separated from their loved ones by thousands of miles. These new outlets of marketing channels have allowed us to get away from looking at things from a purely marketing perspective so we can incorporate the stories of some of the people we’re serving.” For Scott and her team, ad campaigns today focus increasingly on engagement, personal stories, and the all-important emotional engagement.

The show’s last guest, Kathy Collins, CMO at H&R Block, echoed this position. Last year the company—the world’s largest consumer tax services provider—launched a campaign during tax season featuring the catch phrase ‘Get Your Billions Back, America.’ “This campaign has gone beyond brand awareness,” explains Collins. “It is a celebration of tax refunds for every consumer segment in the country.” The campaign features Richard Gertland, a tax professional working at H&R Block, who explains how each year, people collectively miss out on more than a billion dollars in tax returns due to filing errors.

Kathy Collins, CMO at H&R Block
Kathy Collins, CMO at H&R Block

That everyone wants every dime possible back on taxes is the underlying emotional driver in the campaign. “For some people, their tax refund is like their annual bonus,” Collins explains. By pairing this message with an authentic figure who promised painless refund assistance, H&R Block were able to create a compelling and extremely effective ad campaign: Within four weeks of running the campaign, more than 75 percent of American taxpayers knew the tagline, and ninety percent of them tied it to H&R Block. Total revenues in 2014 increased $118 million, or four percent, and H&R Block counts four million new customers in 2014 alone.

How an older spokesman like Gertland, who owns over 200 bowties, would sit with millenials was important to the campaign—young people doing taxes for the first time were a big part of the target audience. “He embodied the values of the brand, and brought a fresh new perspective, but I was worried he could be polarizing,” says Collins. But her hesitation was unfounded: When a focus group of young people were asked what they thought of Gertland’s age, a 22 year old replied “I don’t want the person whose doing my taxes to look like me.” Authenticity—which breeds a sense of trust—therefore resonates more than a misplaced attempt to be something you’re not.

Collins also described H&R Block’s commitment to cause marketing, something she sees as fundamental to contemporary advertising. “Once I saw how powerful cause marketing could be, I was hooked,” she explains. For five years, the company has run a program called H&R Block Dollars & Sense, which helps increase financial literacy among teenagers through curriculum and resources, and provides grants and scholarships to help young Americans pay for higher education.

In the last year, the company launched a Budget Challenge, a simulated game high school students play for nine weeks. “Students have to manage a budget as if they just graduated from college, got their first job, and make $45 thousand a year,” explains Collins. “The kids have to make the decisions—all done on their mobile phone or laptop—that people in the real world make: Do I want a roommate? Do I need renters insurance? Which cell phone plan is best? How much should I contribute to my 401K?” And, like real life, there are curve balls: “They might get hit with an email in the middle of the night saying ‘you’ve dropped your cellphone in the pool,’ Collins laughs.

Such programs are a far cry from the advertising campaigns of yore, but they are profoundly effective in many senses: the brand gets recognized, kids learn crucial skills, and employees feel pride in their work. “It’s the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done in my entire career,” says Collins. “It’s amazing to see what a big brand can do to positively change to people’s lives.”

— Alexis Rider
PhD Student, History and Sociology of Science
University of Pennsylvania

Research Support: Elijah Cory, WFoA Research Assistant, University of Pennsylvania, Class of 2017



“Marketing Matters” CMO Spotlight: Reinvention & Relevance

Aired July 29, 2015

This week, “Marketing Matters” tackled a theme close to every contemporary marketing practitioner’s heart: reinvention and relevance. Continuing their CMO Spotlight sessions, Executive Director Catharine Hays and Jenny Rooney, Editor Forbes CMO Network, welcomed four guests to discuss how brands stay fresh in the rapidly evolving world: John Dillon, SVP, CMO, Denny’s Corporation; Christy Kaprosy, President of Papyrus-Recycled Greetings, CMO of American Greetings; Alison Engel, VP, Global Marketing, LinkedIn; and Bill Brand, President of HSN, and CMO of HSNi.

“Denny’s is an iconic American brand, which is both a good and a challenging thing,” explains John Dillon, the company’s SVP and CMO. “We’ve been around for 63 years.” Denny’s is hugely recognized, but, as Dillon explained, recognition does not correlate so simply to patronage. “If we asked a room full of people about Denny’s, we had a 98 percent brand recognition. But if we asked if they’d been to a Denny’s in the past 10 or 15 years, a dramatic number of hands would go down. The recognition was something from the past,” he explains.

John Dillon, SVP, CMO, Denny’s Corporation
John Dillon, SVP, CMO, Denny’s Corporation

As Dillon succinctly put it, “Our challenge was to reinvent a classic American brand and make it relevant to today.” Importantly, his team had to respect their core customer group, who had long been loyal to the brand. “We needed to understand our brand,” explains Dillon, “so we sat down with our guests, in the restaurant and in their homes, and tried to understand why the ones who loved us loved us, and what the barrier was for those who didn’t. And many of them told us they loved Denny’s, but were frustrated because they didn’t know who we were anymore. The common denominator was we’d lost our identity.”

In response to this, in 2011 Denny’s launched the idea, or tagline, ‘America’s Diner.’ “The concept has given us a really strong north star from a marketing standpoint, but also a broader stand point,” says Dillon. ‘Diner’ means more than just a place to eat in the American imagination: “people use the word in an emotional sense—it means the ability to come as you are, to just relax and be yourselves—everyone parks their title at the door, and everybody can let their guard down at the diner.” This concept, which has tested extremely well with new and loyal customers alike, has given Denny’s its identity back.

Keeping ‘America’s Diner’ in mind, the company has developed a series of projects and partnerships that embrace current trends. The Den, targeted to millennial audiences, can be found on several college campuses. “Dens feature a smaller, more streamlined menu, and more of a fast casual service model,” explains Dillon. When Denny’s launched it’s menu titled ‘classic hits remixed,’ it partnered with Atari to produce games—available on the Denny’s app—that were spins on Atari classics. “Asteroids became Hashtroids—instead of a spaceship shooting the asteroids it’s a ketchup bottle shooting hash browns,” Dillon says. “We did it to turn some heads, but also from a practical perspective, we’re getting app downloads.” All the while, ‘America’s Diner’ creates a coherent, and relevant, brand identity.

Catharine and Jenny’s next guest, Christy Kaprosy, President of Papyrus-Recycled Greetings, CMO of American Greetings, had tackled reinvention from a very different starting point. “Historically, American Greetings had not really stepped into the limelight from a consumer marketing perspective,” explains Kaprosky. “Marketing emphasized more of the business to business side. Turning to the consumer has been an incredible opportunity for us, as we weren’t burdened by a history of marketing. We started with a white piece of paper.”

Christy Kaprosy, President of Papyrus-Recycled Greetings, CMO of American Greetings
Christy Kaprosy, President of Papyrus-Recycled Greetings, CMO of American Greetings

As a greeting card company—something which seems intuitively material—an increasingly digital world could seem intimidating. But, as Kaprosky explains, digitalization was a benefit, not a risk. “So many consumers are surrounded by digital communication 24/7, and they therefore place more value on our category—the physical card—because it is so much more meaningful.”

So how does a printed product embrace the digital age? “We wanted to grow the personalized greeting card business,” explains Kaprosky. “Traditionally, a card is pre-printed. We wanted to drive a behavioral change to get consumers to co-create with us—adding photos, writing their own messages.” Digital enables this co-creation, an option that consumer’s find hugely appealing, once they know it’s available.

Popularizing the personalized card, a fundamental conceptual change to the greeting card idea, was crucial. Enter American Greetings’ campaign “World’s Toughest Job,” which has won 52 advertising awards to date. The campaign presents online interviews for a role titled “Director of Operations.” The interviewer, talking to people who genuinely applied for the job, reveals the increasingly strenuous conditions—applicants had to work 365 days a year, standing up, with no breaks and no pay. When candidates refused the position, calling the job inhumane, the interviewer finally revealed that billions of people already have the job—moms. The campaign is candid, genuine, and heart warming: many of the ‘applicants’ tear up when the twist is revealed. “In this modern marketing world, things are a little less scripted and more authentic,” says Kaprosky. “When we heard the pitch, we felt like that was the breakthrough idea we were looking for.” And, of course, the campaign directed viewers to Cardstore, where they could personalize a Mother’s Day card for their own hardest worker.

The campaign was hugely successful—both on the awards circuit, and for exposure: “We wanted to leverage earned and owned media, and this is exactly what we did,” says Kaprosky. “This campaign received seven times the paid media. It was the number one trending video on YouTube, it is up to almost 25 million views. And it was the most shared ad for Mothers Day in 2014 and 2015.”

For Kaprosky, the most exciting element of World’s Toughest Job was the learning opportunity it provided. “We realized that what was really at the core of the campaign was people wanting to express gratitude to their mothers,” she explains. “Now, we’ve taken that idea further, and recognize that consumers almost always want to express gratitude—its part of every occasion and relationship.” Like Denny’s ‘America’s Diner,’ American Greetings found it’s north star: gratitude.

Alison Engel, VP, Global Marketing, LinkedIn
Alison Engel, VP, Global Marketing, LinkedIn

Alison Engel, VP, Global Marketing, LinkedIn, and a Wharton MBA graduate, was the next guest on “Marketing Matters”. A young and intrinsically digital company, LinkedIn essentially invented it’s own space. “The company was founded with a core mission that stays constant,” says Engel. “To connect world professionals, and make them more productive and successful.” The professional audience is crucial to LinkedIn, and is what differentiates them from other social platforms. “With a focused audience you can achieve great things because you can be very specific about meeting and anticipating their needs,” she explains. “We can build products and services that really resonate with them, which is why we’ve seen tremendous growth on the platform: we host 364 million professionals from over 200 countries world wide.”

While young and highly targeted, LinkedIn is no stranger to reinvention. “Our investment in our mobile platform has been a point of both reinvention and relevance for us,” says Engel. “We’ve recently crossed the point where more than 50 percent of our traffic comes through our mobile platforms, and have had to refashion our desktop experience into a mobile experience that professionals can take with them wherever they go.” When thinking about relevance, one should not be limited to thinking about brand identity, or finding a conceptual north star. “Mobile is where consumers are going, but especially professionals and millennials,” explains Engel. “For a brand to be relevant today, you have to have mobile as an operating priority.”

While adapting to different user platforms, LinkedIn has also been establishing itself as a publishing space in its own right—a logical move, considering the uniqueness of its professional audience. “We don’t feel like being a publishing platform and being a social network are mutually exclusive—we see power in the combination,” says Engels. In 2012 the company launched its LinkedIn Influencers pilot program, to see how users would respond to long form content. It took off like wild fire. “Now we’ve expanded LinkedIn Influencers to include about 500 people from around the world—designers, chefs, people from pop culture—people who you might not think of as spending a lot of time on LinkedIn, but who see it as a platform to engage with a really unique and high quality audience,” she explains. The social aspect of the site encourages feedback and dialog in a way other publishing platforms do not.

Now publishing on LinkedIn is an option for all users. “We have a huge range of subject matter experts who can share unique insights. The publishing capability gives users a halo for their professional brand, and means they can position themselves as a thought leader,” says Engel. “Anyone can give great advice.”

While a focus on professionals gives LinkedIn its essential coherence, it is important to be relevant to the vast range of professionals who use the service—from age, to career stage, to goals. Personalization is therefore key. “Really understanding the segmentation of all of the audiences that engage with LinkedIn is so important,” says Engel. “how do you create the right experiences, the right feed, the right content for each of those audiences? And how do you strike the right balance between personalization and privacy?” For LinkedIn, a site trusted with the profile information of its users, maintaining the right balance is crucial. “The holy grail of marketing is trust and loyalty,” she says. We can tune the LinkedIn experience so it does feel personal to you, but we have to be very careful with it: users trust us with their information.”

Reinvention and relevance has a big picture aspect at LinkedIn. “We have a vision of building the first economograph,” explains Engel. “We want to be able to map the world’s economy, and create an exchange—if there’s open positions in certain markets and skills in others, our economograph will discover it. We want to create more transparency to the global economy then there’s ever been.”

Bill Brand, President of HSN, and CMO of HSNi
Bill Brand, President of HSN, and CMO of HSNi

To close the show, Jenny and Catharine welcomed Bill Brand, President of HSN, and CMO of HSNi. “This July, we celebrated our 38th birthday month,” says Brand. HSN—which officially changed its name from the Home Shopping Network 10 years ago—is a service that many associate with television. But as Brand explains, “Digital now makes up 42 percent of our sale [up from 12 percent nine years ago], placing us in the top 10 e-commerce players. 20 percent of our sales now happen on a mobile device.” To position themselves so strongly, HSN has had to reinvent itself—but has at the same time kept an essential continuity in its service and brand.

“The world of television is really about a world of content and storytelling,” says Brand. By developing this content, and imbuing the whole brand with it, HSN worked to create a unique experience for its customers. “We want entertaining and engaging experiences that can play on any single platform,” he explains. The launch of the Jimmy Buffet brand, Margaritaville, provides an example. “It’s a true life style brand,” Brand explains. “You close you eyes, and if someone says ‘Margaritaville’ you can almost feel the sand in your toes, taste the salt on your glass. So we built the brand around the idea that we can take our customers somewhere—whether they live in New York, in the Mid West, LA—we can help them escape to paradise.” To create this experience, HSN would host a ‘Five O’clock Somewhere’ party on Friday afternoons, which would promote a product, and create an experience. “Whether you’re shopping or just hanging out, you’re engaged, and connecting emotionally to our brand.”

Through the television, the customer—which is 90 percent female—has always had a direct connection with the experience of HSN, but thanks to new technology, this connection can be deepened. “18 months ago I reorganized our marketing organization into customer lifecycles instead of channels,” says Brand. “We’ve created a personalized shopping experience, so we’re touching consumers in a much more personalized way.” For Brand, the television component of HSN is the marketing, whereas other digital means of engagement—from an personalized online portal, to gaming access, to direct mail—offers the space for a more individual relationship. “Digital allows us to make it even more about what’s important to them: this idea that we know them and we respect them, and we’re able to communicate to them directly what they think they’re going to love.

For HSN—like the other companies represented on the show today—relevance and reinvention does not mean a total shift in service provision, developing a whole new platform, or abandoning the old for the new. “The bottom line is its emotion, and people have to remember that shopping is a want, not a need,” says Brand. Remaining relevant can be as simple as finding ways to connect with those emotions a little bit differently.